Published on: Monday, May 14, 2018

In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court in Byrd v. United States, No. 16-1371, held that a driver who has permission to use a rental car is generally entitled to the same Fourth Amendment protections as the driver who rented the car. The Court’s decision came in the case of Terrence Byrd, who was driving a car rented by his fiancée. The car was pulled over, law enforcement gave Byrd a warning for his driving, and then law enforcement searched the car believing it did not need Byrd’s consent because Byrd was not listed on the rental agreement. Law enforcement found body armor and 49 bricks of heroin in the trunk, for which Byrd was charged.

The district court rejected Byrd’s argument that the heroin and body armor could not be introduced as evidence because the search of the car violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The Third Circuit upheld the conviction, holding that the driver of a rental car who is not listed on the rental agreement does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car and can not challenge a search.

The Supreme Court reversed. The Court rejected the argument that a driver who is not listed on the rental agreement can never have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car because the rental company has not given him permission to use it. The Court explained that whether someone has an expectation of privacy in a car should not depend on whether the person who gave them permission to drive it owns the car or rented it. The Court also rejected the government’s argument that Byrd could not have had an expectation of privacy because the rental agreement signed by Byrd’s fiancée was violated.

The Court remanded the case to the Third Circuit to consider alternative grounds for finding whether Byrd lacked an expectation of privacy.

The Training Division provides resources on search and seizure issues, here.